Whenever the word “supergroup” is used, it comes backed with the expectation that the end result is going to be great. Such bets don’t always pan out (Remember Zwan, anyone?), but with Tired Pony, you’re right on the money. I would venture to say that the band isn’t even a supergroup though. The brainchild of Snow Patrol’s lead man Gary Lightbody, the band brings together R.E.M. axeman Peter Buck and longtime collaborator Scott McCaughey, producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee, and Belle and Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn. Other names, however, are less likely to ring a bell, such as underrated solo artist Iain Archer and Lightbody’s guitar tech Troy Stewart, but they’re just as necessary to the band as the other units. Their debut record The Place We Ran From also features appearances from She & Him and Editors’ Tom Smith, but don’t anticipate an ego-driven test of skills on all parts. The album is simplistic, a pure distillation of musicians making music for themselves, not some audience that is cobbled together from all of their fanbases. Refreshingly sparse and vulnerable, it’s exactly what making music should be about for any band.
North Western Skies – Lightbody’s theme of America comes to life in jangling madolin and echoing vocals describing an all-consuming storm. As is typical with his writing, the negative is made to sound oddly beautiful, with poignant lyrics like “girl you were beautiful before / but in the cyclone I love you more.” Already there’s a sense of vastness and vacant landscape, but there’s safety in following a story.
Get on the Road – In a similar vein to Snow Patrol’s “Set the Fire to the Third Bar,” this duet with Zooey Deschanel has both singers perform the entire song at once rather than bantering back and forth. “The fire, the wine, the bed, and you” is a gorgeous opening line, as the rest of the song explores the difficulty of being both together with and separated from the one you love. While the song is clearly set in rural America, it could apply to a traveling salesman as to a touring musician. The ending of the song climbs into fuzz-induced chaos and belted vocals that show just how quickly emotions can mount.
Point Me at Lost Islands – I read somewhere that a writer compared this to sitting around a campfire making music, and it certainly has that warmth to it. You can feel how every element is being played at once, like you’re sitting in the room with everyone. This is perhaps the album’s most country moment, with prominent banjo and fiddles, with some piano that sounds like it belongs in an old time saloon for good measure.
Dead American Writers – The first single from this group has simplistic, powerful use of slide guitar and Lightbody’s vocals taking on strength and fragility in equal turn. “I’ve been waiting for the spark myself / I’ve been scrambling in the dark for health” should resonate with a writer of any kind. Clocking in at just two and a half minutes, it almost feels too short, but anything else might delude its power.
Held in the Arms of Your Words – This fragile ballad is as touching and simple as its title would indicate. So many lines could be pulled out to highlight the romance and perfectly imperfect relationship compared to the night, so rather than go on and on, I’ll present you with a couple of examples: “With the sunset, the neon awakes / And the cold colors dance on your skin / Finally, the modern makes sense to me.” “The shadows kiss before we do / Right here in the dark / I revel in the calm before the storm.”
That Silver Necklace – One of Lightbody’s characteristics is writing about broken relationships, but in addressing fictional or partially fictional characters, he’s able to explore problems and situations that he hasn’t necessarily experienced himself. “I can’t for the life of me read the signs, read your mind, read your lips, read your diary” shows just how easily he can flip a phrase, and the detractors of his songwriting should take a moment to eat their hats.
I Am a Landslide – The only song that doesn’t have its lyrics come from Lightbody’s pen are by Iain Archer, a former member of Snow Patrol and established solo artist in his own right. Simplistic synth sets the tone for this swaying tune. “I am a landslide waiting to fall” comes the chorus, and even though the song sounds warm, there’s enough of an edge to Archer’s delivery that it feels sincere. Garret “Jacknife” Lee’s young daughters get in one the action, making the ending that much more endearing and giving this project its sense of spontaneity and inclusion.
The Deepest Ocean There Is – The backing instruments are simplistic but fill in the gaps left by one another to create a loose web from which to hang echoing, haunting vocals. There’s a touch of desperation here (“This is not the end, it’s still an outset bet / I’m not taking off my wedding ring just yet”), complemented by disparate feedback and delicate percussion. The end collapses into distortion and, seemingly, mortality.
The Good Book – Though the lyrics were written by Lightbody, they’re delivered by Editor’s Tom Smith. The delicate acoustic backdrop is completely unlike material his own band releases, but it suits his deep voice. “The ground comes at you faster than you think” is a sage piece of advice, and the whole song evokes a sense of a ghost town, filled with bears, wolves, and abandoned bars.
Pieces – The album’s closing track is filled with driving drums, throbbing bass, delicate guitar, minimal piano, and churning synth. Once again, Lightbody demonstrates his strength as a songwriter with turns of phrase like “Pieces of your heart collapse to the sound of beating drums / We can’t contain it anymore, so just let the madness come / There’s something in the way she moves that just terrorizes you / You’ve tried to piece confusing clues together in your head.” Backing vocals preempt the main delivery, adding to the ghostly delivery. “A sudden lurch, the quickening of footfalls / A Bible held above me like an axe,” Lightbody sings delicately, and then the song gives way to distorted feedback, layers clashing and building in a precarious stack as other instruments carry on with the same melody as before. Even if this is a side project, it ends with every member deeply involved, proving that this is very much a band and a group effort with impressive results.